Estate Planning

Estate planning: what happens to my digital data after I die?

Many of us now hold a large amount of data online – from photos and videos to purchased items such as music. But what happens to these ‘assets’ when you can’t look after them yourself or pass away? Steve Wright, our Estates Director, looks at some new proposals for how your digital data could be accessed by your family in the future.

It’s estimated that more than £25 billion of UK assets and items of sentimental value are now held digitally. These assets might take the form of online accounts, cloud storing, social media or other protected electronic storage. They can also include other important items including cryptocurrency, frequent flyer points and other reward schemes which hold a value.

But many of us might not have made provision for how these items will be accessed or passed on when we die, or become unable to manage our own affairs, leaving them at risk of being lost forever. In fact, 60% of adults in the UK have still not set up one of the most basic of Estate planning tools – a Will.

A new Private Members’ Bill now aims to offer next of kin the opportunity to automatically access your digital Estate without the need for legal action. Currently any access is at the discretion of those who facilitate the storage; usually large tech companies who can make obtaining access to digital assets very difficult. The proposed legislation, called the Digital Devices (Access for Next of Kin) Bill, has just completed its second reading, and the hope is that it will soon become law across the UK.

This Bill is of real interest; the issue has been growing in importance and the need for action to be taken is well overdue. STEP, the professional body for those advising families across generations, called for the way in which digital assets are managed to be reviewed last year, driven by the digital dependence of many people’s lives. Digital assets are now very much part of the Estate planning process, and it’s very unfortunate that many families have struggled to access these important items when they need to.

There is too a growing awareness of the need to consider these assets when you make your Will, so that things are made as easy as possible for your next of kin. Some platforms, including Google’s Inactive Account Manager and Facebook’s Legacy Contacts, do already give some scope to nominate someone to access your records in the event of your death, but there is a need for tech companies to play their part in providing legacy options.

If you need to consider your digital Estate, or draft or update your Will please contact your nearest office.